Tensions subside in riot-scarred Amiens, France

AP and AFP, AMIENS, France

Thu, Aug 16, 2012 - Page 7

Tensions appear to have subsided in a northern French city after police fanned out overnight to prevent a repeat of riots that left a school in ashes.

Residents of housing projects in Amiens’ northern district yesterday said they remain alert for fresh skirmishes, because relations between police and youth in the neighborhood have long been strained.

More than 200 riot police were stationed in the area on Tuesday night and yesterday morning after about 100 young people rampaged through the district on Monday night, firing buckshot at police, torching a pre-school and gym and pulling drivers from cars.

Salah Boucebsi, who lives in the area hit by Monday’s violence, said the lack of prospects for youth might have driven the rioting.

“There is no work, 65 percent of them don’t have anything,” he said.

On Tuesday French Interior Minister Manuel Valls was booed in Amiens, hours after the riots cast a shadow over President Francois Hollande’s celebration of 100 days in power.

Police had used tear gas and rubber bullets to quell the unrest on Monday that left 16 police officers injured.

Speaking in the area where unemployment stands at 45 percent, Valls said nothing could excuse attacks on police and the torching of public amenities.

“I have not come here to challenge a community, young people in general. I have come to say that here ... law and justice must prevail,” he said.

Amiens Mayor Gilles Demailly described the unrest as the product of mounting social tension in an area where the rule of law had broken down.

The clashes involving around 100 local youths and up to 150 police occurred in a deprived area of what is an otherwise prosperous city known for its university and 13th-century Gothic cathedral.

Monday’s violence followed smaller-scale clashes 24 hours earlier, which were triggered by the arrest of a man for dangerous driving. The arrest was seen as insensitive as it came as many residents of the neighborhood were attending a wake for a local 20-year-old who had died in a motorbike accident.

Demailly said the violent response to the incident reflected a descent into lawlessness orchestrated by ever younger troublemakers and put the damage at “millions of euros.”

“There have been regular incidents here but it has been years since we’ve known a night as violent as this with so much damage done,” the mayor said.

Demailly, a member of Hollande’s Socialist Party, added: “For months I’ve been asking for the means [to alleviate the neighborhood’s problems] because tension has been mounting here.

“You’ve got gangs of youths playing at being gangsters who have turned the area into a no-go zone. You can no longer order a pizza or get a doctor to come to the house,” he said.

The government has identified the northern quarter of Amiens as one of 15 “priority security zones” across the country that will be established from next month.